People’s Pope? Well, Half of Them

As a Catholic, I commend your evenhanded description of the new pope by Frances Kissling and Katha Pollitt, and Laila Lalami’s review of Coetzee’s The Childhood of Jesus [Oct. 14].

There are so many viewpoints of Catholicism within the Christian framework that it is difficult to find an unbiased commentary—and yet that is what these writers did. That the Catholic Church should or could lead the religious world in inclusion is but a noble dream, similar to the one presented by Coetzee. From the perspective of the feminist, Francis falls far short. This is just the beginning of the conversion of the old church to the new; its modernization may take centuries.

Charles Anderson
mauston, wis.

Leave it to Katha Pollitt to put her own smart spin on the pope & his supposed open-mindedness [“Pope Francis: Sexism With a Human Face?” Oct.14].


As a lifelong Catholic, I agree with Katha Pollitt that Pope Francis is basically a “lovely man” whose pronouncements and interviews have garnered widespread support. But Pollitt is also spot-on when she states that the pope has “little sense of real women.” He said in an interview with America magazine, “I am wary of a solution that can be reduced to a kind of ‘female machismo,’ because a woman has a different makeup than a man.” Female machismo is the big threat when the major cause of death for American women is murder by their boyfriends and husbands, and when hundreds of thousands of girls and women are trafficked and treated as slaves? Women deserve better. We all deserve better.

Mark R. Day
vista, calif.

What Francis has done is put issues like war and peace and economic injustice back on the church’s front burner, and that is a big improvement, especially in the United States, where the bishops have for the most part been little more than ward heelers for the Republican Party.


Nah, no real change until they lose the doctrine of papal infallibility. It’s a new idea, not the way the church originally worked; infallibility isn’t ancient, it’s a modern invention used to fight modernity—nice work, eh?


My Jesuit institution, Santa Clara University, has already answered Katha Pollitt’s question. Our president recently sent a university-wide letter that begins by stating how “deeply moved, encouraged, and challenged” he is by the example of Pope Francis, especially the pope’s “priority: healing wounds and warming hearts.” Thus inspired, he announced that “our core commitments as a Catholic University are incompatible with the inclusion of elective abortion coverage in the University’s health plans.” Despite the university’s stated commitment to shared governance, the decision to deny elective abortions to faculty, staff, girls and women covered by its insurance plans was made with no opportunity for discussion.

Nancy C. Unger
santa clara, calif.

Going Hungry in America

Re Trudy Lieberman’s “The Real Hunger Games” [Oct. 14]: it is no “game”—it’s heartrending cruelty. My church supplies food to the local food bank. It’s never enough. I know people who work two or three part-time jobs and don’t have enough food; I know of a disabled vet who relies on the food bank. I know of elderly people who stand in line (at their age!) at the food bank. Yet the GOP/TP have gutted SNAP and would dismantle every social service program, every bit of aid to those in need. America should be ashamed of itself.


I contribute $1,000 a month to my mom’s Social Security so she can live in a safe, clean place and have enough food. Mom cared for my stepfather, a paraplegic Korean War vet, for almost thirty years, yet she was denied benefits. It is a myth that we take care of our veterans. It is a myth that we care about our elderly.


Atom Death Toll Numbers: Too Low

In his review of Napalm: An American Biography [“Shelf Life,” Sept. 30], Peter C. Baker writes: “On March 9, 1945, US planes dropped 690,000 pounds on Tokyo, killing more than 87,000 people in a single night (more than would die in the atomic blasts at either Hiroshima or Nagasaki).”

Baker would do well to consult the eminent historian John Dower’s essay “The Bombed” (reprinted in Ways of Forgetting, Ways of Remembering). Referring to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Dower notes: “It now appears that the total of immediate and longer-term deaths caused by the bombing of the two cities is well over 200,000—probably around 140,000 in Hiroshima and 75,000 in Nagasaki—with the great majority of these deaths occurring during or shortly after the bombings.”

He goes on: “Persistent replication of the outdated initial low estimates of fatalities has contributed to perpetuation of one of the enduring misleading statements in standard accounts of the war—namely, that many more people were killed in the Tokyo air raid of March 9 and 10, 1945, than by the atomic bombs in each city.” The “conventional” bombings of Tokyo (and some sixty-three other Japanese cities) were horrendous enough without exaggerated comparisons to the nuclear attacks.

Jon Reinsch

The most frequently cited figures for the number of deaths from the atomic blasts in Hiroshima and Nagasaki come from the Manhattan Engineer District Survey, published in 1946: it puts the death counts at 66,000 and 39,000, respectively. Sources often note the wide discrepancies in the death count but then rely on the survey’s numbers, as we did when we fact-checked this review. We have since learned that these numbers are considered far too low by most historians. We thank Jon Reinsch. —The editors

Thou Swell, Thou Witty

This is in praise of the virtuoso cryptic creations of Joshua Kosman and Henri Picciotto. They are the Rodgers and Hart of puzzle writing. I am grateful for their gift each week and congratulate them on Puzzle No. 3296, their 100th puzzle for The Nation.

Thomas Miller
new york city